- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

BALTIMORE — Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala wasn’t caught unaware of the increasing influence Canadians are wielding in college lacrosse.

Watching a few days of tape of Delaware midfielder Jordan Hall this week only reinforced his opinion of the importance of players from north of the border.

“It’s so significant we feel we have to do a better job and get up there,” Pietramala said.

Each of the four teams in today’s semifinals at M&T; Bank Stadium possesses at least some Canadian flavor. Top-seeded Duke features slick crease attackman Zack Greer (63 goals), while Moose Jaw native David Mitchell leads No. 4 Cornell with 43 goals. Unseeded Delaware starts a pair of Canadians, attackman Curtis Dickson and Hall.

No. 3 Hopkins doesn’t have a true Canadian, though attackman Kevin Huntley spent his childhood summers in the Toronto suburbs playing box (indoor) lacrosse, a game played in tight quarters that encourages both opportunism and creativity.

“They come in, and they have such terrific stick skills,” Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw said. “Although they’re one-handed, they’re always dynamic in terms of being able to put the ball in the cage. They’re great shooters, they’re usually physically tough players [and] they’re used to being pounded on so you don’t have to worry about that.”

Canadians have long been influential at the college level. Mike French starred on Cornell’s mid-1970s dynasty, and brothers Gary and Paul Gait sparked Syracuse’s three consecutive titles from 1988 to 1990. Current indoor star John Grant was a prolific scorer for Delaware in the late 1990s.

Yet never has the influx been so strong. Quarterfinalists Albany (Merrick Thomson) and Maryland-Baltimore County (Cayle Ratcliff) featured high-scoring Canadians, as did defending national champion Virginia (Garrett Billings).

The traditional Canadian skill set blends in well in the United States. Many American players are accustomed to trying to create their own shot, dodging a defender before taking a shot on cage.

But with an indoor background, Canadians tend to be stealthy operators capable of catching and shooting in an instant. They resemble 3-point specialists in basketball, players who can inflict great damage even if they rarely possess the ball.

“It’s a pain in the butt to cover those guys because when you’re watching the ball, you’re worried about the guy with the ball but you know this guy is moving around nonstop, and the second you give him an inch, he’s taking advantage of it,” Johns Hopkins long pole Brendan Skakandi said. “Even when the ball is on one side of the field and he’s on the complete other side, you kind of have to keep one eye on him and one eye on the ball.”

While such players can create such havoc — as Greer has so often while taking feeds from Matt Danowski the last three years — it doesn’t come easy. The field game is still in its nascent stages in Canada, so an adjustment period is natural.

There is also a financial question for programs. The Canadian dollar is weaker than its American counterpart, so schools must allocate larger scholarships to attract non-American players. Then there’s the question of whether schools even provide financial aid to foreign students.

“The difficulty is when you go up there and you have to exchange the money, it costs a lot more,” Pietramala said. “You’re paying even more to have one of those guys. You have to do a good job of doing your homework, but they make a tremendous difference.”

Hall described learning the game in a relaxed atmosphere and different teaching techniques than he has encountered at Delaware. There was more time devoted to stickwork, maintaining possession in the face of physical play and pinpoint shooting on a far smaller cage manned by a heavily padded goalie.

And after this weekend’s Canadian invasion in Baltimore, players with a box background probably will be even more prevalent in the future.

“Grant here opened the door for me,” Hall said. “I don’t think Coach Shillinglaw would have said ‘I’ll take a chance on a Canadian’ if it wasn’t for a guy putting up 110 points. It’s great. Hopefully, Coach will continue looking toward the north for some talent.”

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